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New AHS program catches osteoporosis early

September 4, 2014

Catch a Break aims to reduce number of hip fractures

Story by Tara Grindle; photo by Tahneen Luedee

Edward Kohel thought his bones were strong and healthy, even after cracking his wrist following a slip on ice last winter.

But now, thanks to a new Alberta Health Services (AHS) program, the 61-year-old St. Albert man is taking steps to find out if he has osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to be thin and brittle.

Catch a Break aims to reduce the number of hip fractures in the province by identifying Albertans in the early stages of osteoporosis and connecting them with resources to help them prevent the disease from progressing.

Edward Kohel, second from left, shows Bone and Joint Health SCN Executive Director Mel Slomp, Health Link Alberta manager Cindy Connell and Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute project manager Liz Evans where he broke his wrist, an incident that led to his enrolment in AHS’ new Catch a Break program.Through the program, health professionals contact Albertans who may have sustained a fragility fracture, which is a bone break as a result of osteoporosis.

“I was really impressed the followup was made,” says Kohel of the phone call he received from the program following his treatment. “When it comes down to patient care, this program is great. So much thought and care went into it.”

Catch a Break was developed by AHS’ Bone and Joint Health Strategic Clinical Network, in conjunction with the Alberta Bone and Joint Health Institute.

“Catch a Break is about making sure a patient’s first fragility fracture is their last,” says Mel Slomp, Executive Director of AHS’ Bone and Joint Health Strategic Clinical Network.

“By identifying that first break and treating osteoporosis early, we will significantly reduce the chance of a second, more serious fragility fracture, like a hip fracture.”

Every year, more than 2,400 Albertans – most of them elderly – fracture a hip. Almost all have osteoporosis and most are unaware they have it. As many as one in five people diagnosed with a fragility fracture will have another fracture within 12 months.

More than 1,500 Albertans have been contacted since the program launched in the AHS Edmonton Zone in June, and nearly 900 of those individuals have been identified as being at high risk for osteoporosis. The program will be introduced in the Calgary Zone this fall, and rolled out provincewide by early next year.

Catch a Break is operated by AHS staff through Health Link Alberta who use data from emergency departments and cast clinics across the province to identify Albertans who may have suffered a fragility fracture.

“When we contact the patients, we ask for information about how the fracture occurred,” says Lara Osterreicher, Director of Operations for Health Link Alberta. “If we still suspect a fragility fracture, we invite the patient to join the Catch a Break program.”

If osteoporosis is suspected, these individuals are mailed information about the disease, including the risk factors and how to use calcium, vitamin D and exercise to strengthen bones. Notification and information about treatments for osteoporosis are also sent to their family doctors.

“A key part of the program is the connection to family doctors,” says Slomp. “They receive an information package as well as details about the program, information about osteoporosis and diagnosis and treatment guidelines to prevent the disease from progressing.”

In Canada, fractures from osteoporosis are more common than heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined. Statistics from Osteoporosis Canada show more than 80 per cent of all fractures in people 50 and older are caused by fragile bones, yet fewer than 20 per cent of fracture patients undergo diagnosis or adequate treatment for osteoporosis.

Catch a Break aims to close this gap.

For more information on Catch a Break and osteoporosis, visit: https://myhealth.alberta.ca/alberta/Pages/Catch-a-break.aspx

The Bone and Joint Health Strategic Clinical Network is one of 10 SCNs operating within AHS. SCNs bring together people who are passionate and knowledgeable about specific areas of health, challenging them to find new and innovative ways of delivering care that will provide better quality, better outcomes and better value for every Albertan. For more information visit www.albertahealthservices.ca/scn .